Left Malibu this morning at 9:30 a.m., most of the morning traffic calmed down as I whizzed down the Pacific Coast Highway. Bright sparkling sea on the right throwing broken cascades of California light onto the dashboard of the 4-wheel Mercedes which I’d leased not so much for its gas guzzling idiocy but because I’d been rear ended in my Toyota Camry while stopped at a red light by an 83-year-old man on meds and the small car sending a hard knock and shock up my vertebrae and giving me stiffness and neck ache for a year. I thought this is not a good idea here in L.A., the city of buzzing fly and the perennial auto, not with a 4-year-old in the back seat. So it was pure fear of non-sufficient protection for the child in the back that generated this move to surround myself with as much steel as possible. All around me the land of the SUVs where every man can be a king in his protective castle keeping out the big bad wolf. It’s all about protection in what has been referred to as the “carceral city”, a city of fiefdoms and land ownership. Don’t kid yourself; the real business of Hollywood isn’t showbiz, it’s real estate. It has been since The HOLLWOODLAND sign went up in the late 20s as an advertising stunt for a real estate company trying to populate the then denuded burnt hills of la ciudad de la reinas de los angeles, queen of angels, that acted as a giant magnet and pulled into its sun baked womb the crème de la crème of the world’s dreamers, the hucksters and scam artists, the dreamers and visionaries, the artists, actors, poetesses, novelists, directors, inventors and visionaries that created the world’s beaming station, the dream transmitters of generations for generations.
Topanga Canyon is still clogged up from the landslides and mud slides from our last few storms. A little rain and the hills dissolve like plop plop fizz fizz and the shake and bake idiot’s weather of this part of the world, plagued as it is by the seven curses of earthquake, flood, mudslide, fire, Santa Ana desert wind, smog, and riot continues unabated as it has done so for years. And in the midst of this insanity like a sharp crystal of light, the dream machine, Hollywood.
It is a city lost in time, because it is outside of time and though its concerns are the concerns of memory and presentiment, of money, fear and hope, Hollywood lives in the present the eternal NOW. It sees this as the portal to alternative universes, to options of life, to ways of seeing that until now in human history have held no parallel.
My SUV turns on Sunset Blvd. and begins the long winding path away from the blue sea towards the desert lands. Rounding the corner of the Self-Realization Center, a park with a man-made lake and a temple in the form of a Dutch windmill and founded by the great Yogi and avatar, Yoganada (author of Autobiography of Yogi), and where there are temples and shrines dedicated to all the religions of the world and where under one shrine is a mausoleum to Gandhi in which lie some of his cremated ashes. I see the sculptured golden lotus, perched atop the temples glistening in the sun, an ever ready reminder that man and the human soul, like the lotus, arise from the muck and mud and strive towards the sunlight of the spirit.
The next 13 miles will take us past Pacific Palisades, old home of Henry Miller, Gustav and Anna Mahler, Bertolt Brecht, Aldous Huxley and now bedroom repository of the many executives and studio heads of the movie, film and television industries. Miller had a charming little house by the bluffs overlooking the Pacific, after he left his eagle’s lair in Big Sur, one of the most magical places on earth and site of the New Age consciousness movement of the Esalen Institute.
My first appointment is for an animated series and it’s at the 9200 block of Sunset at the crossroads between Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. The 60s glass and steel structure with its marbled courtyard has for me been the site of many changes both personal and career.
Like the Château Marmont (now legendary for being the death site of John Belushi’s overdose in one its cottages) 9200 is one of those buildings in the industry. Site of my very first agency back in ‘76, business manager who ran off to Mexico with his clients’ money and the money of equally trusting artist souls. After the earning years are over, and in a land that worships at the base of the fountain of youth drinking eagerly from his sparkling well the agencies find other fish to fry. And the fish arrive daily fresh and sparkling, newly caught with a for sale sign on them.
It now houses my commercial and voice agency Abrams Artists and every two weeks or so I perform the ritual of parking my car in the underground garage, travel to the 4th floor and after a customary wait with other actors, name and no name, am led by a pleasant young man, wearing a red bowtie, like Jimmy Olson, to a cork-lined room where I recite into a microphone a spontaneous rendition of an animated character, or a beer commercial or advice on high tech investements. These days it’s my favourite part of acting because you can show up grunged out, hair unkempt and wearing dirty jeans and land a job that will pay the rent for a few hours of recitation work.
Of course, since in spite of my 40 years in the business, I am new at this. I haven’t booked a national or a cartoon yet but I feel that the day will soon arrive where my voice will be blaring from the nation’s sets disguised as a sensei in long white hair and robe. I can hardly wait.
What I love about voice work is that it affords me time, time to pursue my real interests in the art and science of acting and theatre; an unknown Durrematt or an original piece, like Love In a Land which I’m currently in rehearsal for with my ex-wife Barbara W. (now re-married to Tom Hayden, Jane Fonda’s ex) and Shauna L., a brilliant young poetess and Dagmar G., another extraordinary being.
It starts to rain again and I’m concerned about rockslides on the way home tonight. If that happens PCH will be closed and I’ll have to take the back way there thru Kana Dune or Malibu Road assuming they aren’t flooded, or muslided out. Drama is everywhere. It’s pandemic to this part of the world. Fires and floods and of course earthquakes. During the last big one, the Northridge, my agent quit the business and headed off to safer lands, though she has returned since.
And I wonder what it’s about this actor’s life for me, a life which I have lived now for almost 40 years of film television and stage. What is this endless round of auditioning and rejection and acceptance and the tango of being creased on all corners? Running from marriage-to-marriage and part-to-part and city-to-city and country-to-country, in pursuit of what? Occasionally laying a track that catches the imagination of the public.
What constitutes the being of an actor? Why do actors act and why do people watch and listen? It’s such a mystery really. Or is it? A huge billboard on sunset above Le Dome restaurant announces Alias and the motto of the show: “I can be anyone I want to be!”
The restaurant is where the old dinosaurs that founded the business still occasionally dine. Yes a few are still around. Not many but still a few like archeological evidence of a society that once was. An America that actually once existed where an immigrant boy on the streets of New York with a dream and panache could found a global empire. You can see them dripping jewels exiting their chauffeured private cars, the founders are all dying off, but some like Sam Weisbord, assistant and coffee boy to William Morris himself back in 1907 said to me in his well-appointed office after his assistant served us cranberry juice in crystal glasses, “Tell me something about yourself kid.”
Acting is the representation of Action under imaginary circumstance.
Notes from the city of the angels. Past the big neon signs announcing nude girlsw, the 7th Veil Strip Club, the paper chasing printing machines copy shops, the old motels with vacancy signs, the serial posters, the words “passion drama” appear, and re-appear. Past the sleazy old building, on both sides the high palm trees dripping dry fronds, the big empty signs I can see the world’s endless possibilities. Where is the passion drama, I ask myself? In the sunset light on Sunset Boulevard the truck wends in slow-motion past the empty warehouses, the Hollywood Studio Inn, the trees dripping light, past the liquor stores the endless posters announcing the movies TV shows, beepers, gentlemen clubs.
At Sunset and Vine a black and white passes me on the right. I watch it retreat in my side mirror as two officers pull up next to a parked car checking it out. There is always something to check out, someone to identify, and someone to arrest. The carceral city holds more prisoners per square mile than anywhere else in the world. There is a coldness underneath all this heat, all these smiles, a prescient feeling of danger hidden at all times, like the vapid smile of a serial killer who might be the boy next door or who once was on the cover of a cereal box.
I turn my truck right and head down Gower towards CBS.Try to find some parking. It’s audition time. And I’m on time for once. I walk up to the security guard who gruffly points to a sign in check list and put my imprimatur down, go past the metal detector and head down the hall looking for the casting offices. In the corridors actors of all shapes and sizes young and old sides and mumble lines to themselves, like fervent prayers at the altar of success.
Somewhere around here there is an old cemetery in which the great silent movie stars are buried in large mausoleum sculptured edifices portraying weeping angels their sad faces draped and fingers point to the grave.
Here lies Rodolfo Valentino. Here lies Jean Harlow. Here lies Marilyn Monroe, buried in a tiny grave on the side of wall behind a movie house in Westwood. Here lies the race of the dreamers of the phosphorescent angels that still flicker and wave to us from across the ages. Here lies hope, desire, passion, drama.
Here lie the dreamers.